[P] salt from the rim, rub in the wound
#1
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Word Count → ??? :: Mysterious Sighting Clue 1!





Snow hid the incline, but it was melting in patches like holes in good cloth, showing peaks of the path beneath. Stubborn early-spring grasses clawed up from the ground, clumps of green brighter than the pine needles. Occasionally Malik stopped to kick them clear of frost, as though that might help winter end sooner.


More than anything he wanted to feel as though he were contributing to the passage of time, rather than reacting to it.


The brothers had taken Krokar's destruction poorly. It felt cruel to have strained for a goal only to find it unattainable, removed, an intangible memory. The Troupe were good about it. Nobody had made a fuss yet, but the feeling of directionless confusion hung heavy on the camp, a constant reminder of the brothers' mistake.


Portland should have made them harder than this, but the softness remained in their underbellies and their skin, as endearing as it was useless.


Normally content to hang about camp with his lute and big Mondo, Malik found himself uncharacteristically restless. He set out with no clear intention but a shoddy dagger and the lute over one shoulder. The weather was mild enough to encourage exploration, so he wore only the stained cream undershirt and his good leather pants for freedom of movement. Drifting, the bard stopped now and again to scratch the little oval shape of a coin into the odd trunk. His meandering feet led him north.


By the time Malik realized he was lost he had been walking for over an hour.


There was a panic beneath his ribcage, but it was easy to ignore. How long had it been since he'd left the sounds of the river behind? The young man began to retrace his footsteps, but got confused by a muddy patch that deer had passed through, and instead found himself in an unfamiliar glade between two dense copses of evergreens, and a trail that led deeper into the woods.


There was a strange smell on the air - rancid. Mal loitered, unsure of how to proceed.

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#2
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🗡 we swear bc we care

Following the terrible discovery, O'Brien -- being a man who needed his own privacy -- gave the Amaranthe boys their space to process and grieve. He supported them in his usual way, making sure they didn't go to sleep hungry or cold, and spent his free time roaming as was, too, usual for him. A scout at heart, he sought signs and clues, and made sure nothing threatening lingered beyond the fringe of their campsite.

That afternoon he returned with a rabbit hanging over his shoulder, and discovered that no one had seen Malik in a while.

His curses were colorful, just like maw taught him.

Tracking the wayward bard was simple at first, but eventually the trail meandered through muck and melted snow. Thankfully, this was what O'Brien was good at; he found where Malik had gotten turned around, and clicked his tongue at the scratchings left behind in the occasional fir tree. He silently followed the path left through the undergrowth until he spotted the brightnesss of his white hair.

Stricken with relief, O'Brien scowled.

Malik! Are ye aff yer heid? the thief demanded, striding forward. He reached out to cuff the lute-player's ear, though the gentle swipe belied his anger. Gaun aff wi'oot tellin' us anythin', Ah'm surprised a bear didnae eat ye, ye numpty. He lifted his hand again, as if he wanted to give him another swat to the back of the head, but scowled and dropped it instead on the man's shoulder, where it squeezed: glad you're safe.

With that out of his system, the dog glanced around and sniffed -- noticing the stench of what seemed to be rotten meat. Reeks, he said. C'mon, he added, pulling Malik's shoulder to steer him back in the direction of home.

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<div class="txt">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div><div class="txt txt2">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div>
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#3
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Word Count → ??? :: NUMPTY



Wavering on the fine edge between two opposing decisions, Mal's foot was just lifting into the air when the hooded figure lurched out of the woods beside him.


For a moment the bard's heart hammered wildly in his chest. He wasn't a spooky sort, generally more beholden of a calm - if at times melodramatic - outlook. But something about the glade unsettled him.


Thankfully the warm brown eyes and scruffy chin were familiar, and the next time Mal's heart beat it went: Ba-Bump!


"Obi, you found me! I guess I lost track of - ow!" Rubbing at his ear gingerly though the tap had been nothing but air, Semini's son placidly tucked his tail. All was forgiven a moment later - it took his whole theatrical skill not to grin as the thief's hand settled warmly on his shoulder. "I didn't mean to worry you," In an effort to appease, the white-haired youth managed a harangued sort of expression he thought might convince the other man.


A practical sort of fellow, O'Brien didn't seem to have much time for it. Already he was peeling away back into the landmark-less woods from whence he'd come.


Disappointment gave Malik a cunning he didn't know he had. "Wait up a second," A little bold, he reached out for the pickpocket's hand. "We should go see what that stink is. What if someone has a secret stash out here? I saw a little trail just before, up the way," With his free fingers he pointed gracefully to the opening between the pines, innate sense of foreboding long since replaced by the naive desire to spend more time in his friend's company.


Because that alone didn't seem enough to convince the skeptical dog, Mal added in an afterthought: "Might be something valuable?"

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#4
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I'm sorry for the wait boo!

The bard's hand grabbed his, and O'Brien was turned around easily; he didn't even need tugged in the direction Malik pointed. His lopsided ears pricked despite the frown that settled on his dark lips, but he remained unmoved, only lifting his brows at Malik's suggestion. Did the lost lute-player really want to wander further into potential danger?

He realized what Malik was doing (well, some of what he was doing; for all his observational skills O'Brien could be an oblivious man) when the man suggested something of value lay on the other side of those leaning pines. He crooked a brow further then smirked, rolling his brown eyes lightly then fixing them on the trail.

Might be, he conceded. He lifted their linked hands and gave them a demonstrative shake, his voice low with patient resignation. If 'tis just auld rotten meat, then will ye come back?

He paused for an answer (and would only accept one), then started for the trail. He let go of Malik's hand, but kept his near - in case he needed to haul Malik along or stop him suddenly - and walked slowly. The sickly-sweet odor of decomposing flesh made his gorge rise with his hair, an instinctual response to a thing that would make him sick; he was reluctant to go closer.

The trees thinned. Broken in a heap of decayed wood, leaning dangerously sideways, was a cabin - though none they could live in. Laid out in the snow before it was a pig carcass - absolutely teeming with scavenger insects. Beetles scuttled over bloated flesh, while maggots writhed and fell into the frost. When a fly buzzed O'Brien's ear, he wrinkled his lips back and spat.


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[html]<div class="obisig">
<div class="txt">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div><div class="txt txt2">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div>
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#5
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Word Count → ??? :: omg no stress no rush dude. also feel free to PP Mal getting walloped for ease of storytelling if you want!



He could tell the minute he had the thief sold - there was an amber glint to his warm brown eyes, a mischievous spark that thrilled Mal to no end. If only he could conjure up that exact expression on a whim; They would have no more need for travel and trade. O'Brien's toothy smirk was worth a kingly ransom in salt and gold.


At least it was to Malik.


A little starstruck, he limp-noodled the handshake and beamed. "Sure I will, sure," Excitement stirred butterflies in his stomach. The bard tried hard to appear cool and nonchalant. He fell into step behind the hound, who led the way with a walk so quiet that the forest alone could hear it.


It wasn't until they rounded the corner that the Amaranthe brother began to feel the first shred of cold doubt shiver down his spine. The smell was much stronger, catching like sour flem in the back of his throat until he gave a whisker-curling sneeze. Mal looked up from the back of his hand at the cabin, and the boar.


He gagged instantly, and pressed his fingers to his mouth. "Oh, lady of misfortune," Repulsed, the bard peeled his eyes away from the rancid carcass to catch a glimpse at the decrepit wooden structure beyond. "What a waste!" Of meat and of shelter. It was a genuine comment from a survivor of Portland's underbelly - a boar that size could have fed the Troupe for days if it hadn't been left to rot.


Just as he opened his mouth to lament as much, there was a loud splintering sound from within the cabin. Startled, Malik yelped and dropped his lute, which gave a petulant and resonant thrum as it hit the frosty ground.

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#6
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It was a waste.

A community-minded hunter and a man who knew what it was like to scrape by, O'Brien was filled with the same near-grief as Malik. Moreover, a strange sense of foreboding settled over him; he was a superstitious sort, too, and it seemed like a terrible omen to find this bloated, maggot-ridden corpse untouched in the wild.

All his hair stood on end. Slowly, he lifted his eyes to the trees.

His heart raced. His imagination raced, too. Was that a shadow, or a bird?

Then a series of noises: the crackle of old wood from the cabin, a cry from Malik, an errant chord from the lute as it hit the frozen earth—

A quiet thud of a body crumpling beside it.

O'Brien broke out of his trance in a heartbeat and whirled toward his companion, his name already raw in his throat, but something struck him hard in the back of the head. His expression of horror and aggression slackened with unconsciousness as his eyes rolled and his own body collapsed.


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[html]<div class="obisig">
<div class="txt">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div><div class="txt txt2">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div>
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#7
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Word Count → ??? :: small assumptions, lemme know if you want changes!



There was a strange sensation of being pushed and pulled. Mal wanted to tell the boys to leave him alone - it was too early in the morning to be woken up. The inside of his eyelids were foggy with moving shadows. The boys were insistent, pulling at his clothing; Probably trying to prank him or something. Disoriented, the bard made a low and groggy sound of annoyance. Shove off, Calrian! He thought, batting weakly at the fingers that pawed at his shirt until it came over his head, which had begun to pound something awful.


The ground was cold against his back. He curled up into a ball.


It was the chill that roused him properly. Shivering, Mal blinked blearily against the weak light. It was starting to get dark. Gingerly, he pushed himself up and sat slumped for a moment as the trees spun. A spark of light behind his eyes reminded him of the splitting pain in his head; When he reached up to prod at it, his fingers came away with spots of dark drying blood and small splinters of wood.


"Lady fuck me," He hissed lowly, and looked around him. Remembering, he cursed again, "My lute!" But it remained where he had dropped it, and just beyond that was another crumpled form. "Obi!"


The last drips of grogginess were leaving his mind sharp as the bard shuffled over to his fallen friend. The thief was also coming to - blood and spit caked to one side of his face. "Obi! Are you ok? They took my shirt! Oh!" Aghast, Malik was reaching for the man when he realised what had happened. His hands hovered in the air, and he made a strange choked sound. "They took your pants?!"

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#8
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For O'Brien, there was only darkness.

It was not the first time he'd been knocked unconscious. He remembered trees, and perhaps that was what occupied his mind in the moments of swirling stars. Branches creaked under his feet as he ran and ran, laughing, his spindly body swinging and jumping from one bough to the next. His father had taught him that.

Someone was on his heels; was it a Dubhthaigh girl? Surefooted, the pair ran.

His foot hit bad wood.

And in the moments that he dropped, falling through raking twigs and terrifying open air, O'Brien thought he heard a crow laugh.

He opened his eyes.

Recalling only the instant before he'd been struck, O'Brien snarled. It was a terrible sound so unlike anything the mongrel had made before, pink foam flecking his lips, his irises so shaded as to be near-black. He exposed sharp teeth at the figure reaching for him, before he recognized the bewildered voice of his friend, and he stopped at once, eyes widening and ears pinning tightly against his skull.

"Mal," the thief said, and shook his head; it hurt, and he grit his teeth. "Fuck."

He hated how impossible it was to concentrate with his head throbbing. He shivered, and realized what the bard had; someone had stolen his pants, tugged them off while he was out cold. Malik was shirtless, too, and O'Brien stared at the soft white fur of his narrow chest before shaking his head and grimacing again.

"Is that a' they took?" He had his cloak. The lute was on the ground. His dagger, he realized as his hand jumped to it, was still there too. "Fuck, are ye okay?"

There was real fear in his voice. He moved on his knees closer to Malik, reaching for his jaw so he could gently tip his head and look at the blood matting his hair. He growled at the sight of it, a frustrated sound more breath than rumble, then dropped both his hands down to his bare thighs, where they balled into fists.


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<div class="txt">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div><div class="txt txt2">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div>
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#9
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Word Count → ??? :: in which Mal rolls poorly on perception but ok on charisma ¯\_(ツ)_/¯



The snarl made a stranger out of O'Brien.


For a moment, before he knew better than not to be, Malik was afraid. His fingers curled on air and his sad, drooping eyes went round and wide. Every instinct he had bid him to be very still, and so he was. After a second - less than a second? A heartbeat? A blink? - O'Brien's face changed back into his own.


Albeit a bloodied, angrier version.


Submissive, Mal cringed and did his best to look apologetic. "I'm sorry, it's my fault," He started, pulling in his narrow shoulders pitifully, "I shouldn't have-" He fell silent when the thief took his jaw, and docilely tilted his head to allow the inspection of where he had been bludgeoned. The hound's touch made him feel strange, stranger still with a likely concussion, like someone was rapidly strumming a mandolin in his stomach and the tempo was vibrating through each lively nerve.


O'Brien growled somewhere near his ear. This time the tremor that ran through the bard had nothing at all to do with fear or cold.


But his dumb confusing feelings weren't helping anyone, least of all his friend, who looked rightfully if reservedly upset at the situation. Putting aside the strangeness in his gut, Mal leaned forward and offered the thief a small lopsided grin. "Hey now, it's alright - we're alright! I've taken worse beatings for less than a shirt and a pair of pants. When the boys hear about this they won't stop laughing for days." There was a dull thump as his tail beat hopefully against the ground behind him, a nervous but optimistic drum.


It didn't seem like quite enough, so the truth bubbled out as well. "Don't be mad at me, please? I don't think I could bear it." That sounded all wrong of course. Quickly he added: "Without your help I'll never find my way back, for starters!"

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#10
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nat 20 on angst
Also, I think we can wrap this up! And have another one soon!

He stared downward, gaze weighted by anger, but Malik's nervously smiling face ducked into his vision as he reassured the thief. His words only sent another terrible twinge through O'Brien's heart—taken worse beatings for less—and he fixed his gaze briefly on the bright blue one. "It's no' funny," he said, but not as chastisement. He slowly got his feet under him and groaned as he stood up, briefly pressing his fingers to his temple, the digits coming away with sticky dry blood.

Malik babbled on about O'Brien being mad at him, and finding his way back alone, and the thief blinked and stared at him for a minute.

"Ah'm no' mad at you," O'Brien said, brows pinched together. He exhaled, then lowered his hand to help pull Malik to his feet. Whether Malik actually needed the help to rebalance or not, he grabbed the man's arm with his other hand, and rubbed his fingers briefly through the fur there for the sheer comfort and reassurance of touch.

He was okay. They were okay.

The dog gave his friend a pat on that arm, then turned and, wincing slightly, started to head back down the trail. "Let's git ye back hame, mate."

He proceeded to grumble under his breath.

"Fuckin' mingers, bunch o' fuckin' jessies hittin' a man from behind—"


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<div class="txt">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div><div class="txt txt2">I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory</div>
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#11
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Word Count → ??? :: keen for a new one whenever you're free!! holla



For a painful second Mal considered the possibility that some irreparable kind of damage had been done. Not the sort of flesh and blood, that could heal with time to make a neat story-worthy scar; The sort between friends where a memory or a misdeed stuck up in the throat and refused to be swallowed.


He'd never felt so anxious about another individual's opinion before. That, in and of itself, should have been some greater clue. But youth is for the young, and in spite of the love songs and ballads he crooned each night the white-haired Amaranthe brother was as clueless as the best of them.


When O'Brien's tension finally resolved into movement, Mal released a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.


The dog pulled him up to his feet. He was surprisingly strong under all that quiet self-exclusion. Having seen him deliver a devastating right-hook at the East-Dock brawl the night they had formally become a band, the bard figured he shouldn't be surprised. Still, there was something comforting about being able to trust in someone else's strength for once.


Gingerly rubbing his jaw where O'Brien's fingers had held it, he bent to retrieve his lute before falling into step behind the thief.


It was a long way home.


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